This sturdy, black cardboard box was probably first sold in the 1940’s full of stationery, but when I came upon it, cleaning out Mom’s dresser drawers, it was full of cloth handkerchiefs.
But now we have tissues. As a nurse, Mom had moved on. She did not think cloth handkerchiefs were sanitary, and while Dad seemed to still carry one to the end of his days, for the rest of us she insisted that only the modern tissue would do.
Gone went pretty handkerchiefs. We abandoned carbon paper and moved on to copiers, and we gave up making things ourselves to buying what others made for us. Easier, cleaner, more efficient. Out with the old, in with the new.
Except that many of these little hankies are trimmed in lovely intricate lace.
When I was about seven or eight Aunt Rosie taught me to crochet and we worked on large ugly shawls. I still have one I made that’s in the children’s dress up box, where it comes out and plays to a good review. I stay quiet. It’s still really ugly, I think.
But that was just the practice run. Grandma took the next step, pressing me with smaller threads and tiny crochet hooks. This is when the pain began, and why these simple little handkerchiefs are so difficult to throw away. Was this one made by a young girl made to practice over and over trimming handkerchiefs to hone her skill? Or by a seasoned auntie who whipped out a dozen or so that day to be ready for cold season, or to offer to a loved one with consumption?
There is such wisdom and humanity in this lace.
If I tried to teach my daughters how to make this lace would they be willing to take the time to learn how? Can they even begin to fathom the focus to detail and skill it requires…the hours of just sitting looking at one’s hands, following the creation of a tiny intricate pattern that is completely unforgiving, that will allow for not a single missed loop, a single slip from the bigger design?
Life’s lessons are in the making of lace.
Each and every single act matters. Not just the act but the degree of tension. You can’t substitute for concentration. And counting matters. Each stitch, each loop. And if you need help, there are a crew of women nearby ready to assist you. Take your time. Care. The result can be exquisite.
I have a button pinned on my pocketbook that reads “IT MATTERS TO ME”.
Occasionally, rarely actually…someone will ask me what it means.
The truth is that for several years I could not bear to wear it, feeling left out by it’s message, too busy with the trivial pursuit of keeping my life boat afloat to do much of anything that really mattered…or so it seemed in those darker days.
But this year, as I moved from the beige summer pocketbook to the winter black one, it seemed right to fasten the button there. Like that little horse logo on someone’s shirt might do for them, it is my quiet reminder to myself, several times a day that this life matters to me, and that my minute to minute decisions follow from that larger place.
And from lace.
Mom, if only you were here. I think you would have a story for each hankie. “This one was my mother’s, and this one was Gran’s. Don’t you love these violets? I carried this all through nursing school. I’m surprised it isn’t threadbear. Your Aunt Anna gave me these two, and I got these when I was a school girl in England, and….oh yes, oh dear….I had this one in my pocket at Nana’s funeral.”
If these sweet smelling hankies from your dresser drawer could only speak, with their fancy lace edges and their flowery soft cotton cloth.
So that I might pass them with their stories on to my daughters, and they to theirs. Without the stories, it is hard to make the umbilical link, and instead they just gather up drawer space, instead of dust.
So I have thinned them out. Badly stained ones to the dust bin.
Uglier ones there as well.
(I cannot bear to use them as rags.)
But the rest remain. Soon I will show them to my girls. And ask that they make up stories if they must. But somehow, in this time of texting and cloud computing and Twitter, I hope they can find the chord to the women who’s hands flew making the lace, or who covered their cough with a violet.
And I shall place tonight’s dilemma of keeping vs. saving in their hands.
And gently let them go.